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RCN urged to get more active in political lobbying


An emergency motion has been passed at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual conference suggesting that the union to be more active in trying to influence political decision making.

The resolution, tabled by the RCN South Yorkshire branch, called on the college’s council to “consider the way the RCN engages in political decision making that impacts on nursing and the health and wellbeing of the UK”.

The subsequent debate saw a variety of views aired on the college’s current approach to lobbying politicians.

Maura Buchanan argued that the RCN was not “apolitical” but neither was it “party political”, in that it did not officially back any one party unlike many other unions.

However, another delegate reminded congress of a panel debate hosted by the RCN in the run-up to the last general election, which involved speakers from the main three parties.

He noted that a poll of RCN members attending the event had revealed around 70% backed one political party and questioned why the college did not reflect this, instead of its perceived neutrality.

Meanwhile, Zeba Arif, from the RCN North West London Outer branch, said: “We all should be political.”

“Don’t think politics is about us and them – it’s actually about engagement,” said Geoff Earl, an RCN member from Edinburgh. “This college should train members in political activism and engagement,” he said.

Royal College of Nursing

RCN Congress 2016

Paul Smith, who presented the resolution to delegates, cited the keynote speech given on Tuesday by Rebecca Patton, from the American Nurses Association.

Professor Patton, a former president of the ANA, received a standing ovation from conference after talking about her organisation’s role in achieving the historic US Affordable Care Act – more commonly known as “Obamacare”.

She recounted how the ANA had lobbied politicians on the issue as well as publically declaring its support for Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign. She added that the ANA was currently backing Hilary Clinton for the White House.

She ended her speech with a warning for nurses based on three pieces of advice. “If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you do not ask, the answer will always be no. And the most important, if you do not step forward, you’ll always be in the same place,” she said.

The resolution was voted on by 530 RCN members, with 511 in favour, four against, eight abstentions and seven invalid.


In light if the statement made by Professor [Rebecca] Patton this meeting of congress asks council to consider the way the RCN engages in political decision making that impacts on nursing and the health and wellbeing of the UK


Readers' comments (3)

  • why is the nursing times not naming the 'political party' that 70% of RCN members support?

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  • The RCN struggles with its dual role of professional college and union. Isn't it time the two branches of the college split to enable the college to remain neutral and push the education and quality agenda whilst building the nursing evidence base and the union to come out and clearly back a political party supporting, promoting and leading nursing activism

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  • karen Webb

    It is impossible to seperate the art and science of nursing from the environment in which it occurs, so talk of splitting the role of the RCN is ridiculous. Union and Nursing care are symbiotic.
    Politics is best understood as decision making and through this lens it becomes possible and advantageous to engage. The difficulty is that the huge membership covers the whole gammut of perspectives and interests. This makes it difficult for the RCN, not a TUC affiliate or politically linked organisation to feel confident it speaks for all members. On the whole it therefore takes the useful stance of framing principles and leaves its members to decide. Personally I prefer that.

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